Oakland: Birmingham rejects parking plan bond issue
Birmingham voters decisively defeated a controversial bond issue to replace an aging parking structure with a bigger complex, possibly killing plans for the development near the city's business district.
According to complete unofficial results Tuesday night, 68.2% voted against a $57.4 million bond issue to fund the proposed project.
The 30-year bond issue would have funded replacement of a 53-year-old, 745-space parking facility on nearly 4 acres west of North Old Woodward near the city’s business district with a newer, bigger facility — three underground levels and six floors above ground — with 1,157 spaces.
Birmingham resident Scott Seltzer voted in favor of the bond, citing the development it would bring to downtown Birmingham. He said that residents opposed to the plan are skeptical about its high cost.
"The question they ask sometimes is 'Oh, could this be done better?' or 'Things could be improved upon.' In an ideal world that's probably true, but somebody stepped up to do what the proposal said and created a plan for it," Seltzer said.
"The way world works, things need to continually improve for the benefit of community, and I think this does that."
City officials and the developer also envisioned a public plaza and a mixed-use development of offices, businesses and residences next door, including a Restoration Hardware gallery store. The city insists the bond issue will not cost taxpayers but instead be paid off by parking fees and special assessments to businesses.
The city and the developer, Woodward Bates Partners, argued Birmingham has long needed a larger, updated parking facility on the site, as recommended in a downtown master plan adopted in 1996. According to city literature on the project, a 2015 parking study found a need for an additional 278 spaces.
Opponents say the project would be too costly and that, once parking spaces are allotted to the new tenants, there would be no net gain of spaces for visitors.
Birmingham resident George Whitehead was also concerned about the influence the developer had exerted over the legislative process.
"I really did not like the fact that the developers contributed over $180,000 to this program to get it passed," he said. "I think there's a better use for this property than what they have submitted so far, and I hope they have a plan B."
The proposal prompted litigation from two residents who sued the city in federal court after being denied the opportunity to speak about the bond issue at a city commission meeting last month; city officials said the comments would have constituted “political speech” that is barred under a contract between the city and the Birmingham-Bloomfield Cable Board, which films and streams the meetings.
Also on the ballot in Oakland County was a 15-year, 2.3-mill special assessment for police and fire services in Bloomfield Township, which voters struck down by a margin of 62.2% to 38.8%.
The $135 million proposal faced opposition from a citizens group that wants to draw the line on taxes.
The No Special Assessment District group believes township officials are ignoring ways to cut spending and limit the tax burden on residents who are already paying the state maximum of 10 mills.
The special assessment proposal would have raised $9 million a year "to equip, maintain, and operate the Township Police/Fire Departments," according to the ballot language.
Before this week's vote, township Supervisor Leo Savoie said layoffs of police officers and firefighters could result if the tax was defeated. But trustee David Buckley said the township could explore "other avenues" to meet health care expenses and growing retiree and pension costs.
In other Oakland County voting, residents in Walled Lake, Oxford Township and West Bloomfield Township approved public safety tax measures.
In Walled Lake, the 3.95-mill levy for public safety renewal for five years passed with 72.4% voting yes.
In Oxford Township, the 3.9152-mill, five-year increase for police protection passed with 69.5% voting yes, while a 1-mill, 10-year increase for parks and recreation also was approved, with 62.4% voting yes.
Voters in West Bloomfield Township approved a 5.73060-mill, 11-year replacement levy for public safety and a .1895-mill, 15-year renewal for safety path upkeep. The two measures received 82.5% and 75.2% support, respectively.